Bonus Fish Fry Friday – La Vera Party Center

I thought fish fry season was over, but it turns out it was only the churches because of their Good Friday services. Restaurants and alternative venues like Big Met Golf Course were still dishing out fish and other Lenten-friendly foods. Being raised Lutheran the only day we really refrain from eating meat is on Good Friday. I usually forget and remember as I bite into a sandwich or enjoy something with bacon. This year I was good and stayed meatless.

I’ve been hearing about La Vera and its fish fry for a few years now. My old hairdresser grew up there and still spends New Year’s Eve there with her family. Her mother is apparently quite well-known there, being an old Italian family in Cleveland (her aunt runs a small place in Little Italy for primarily locals). One of my friends is a huge fan of the fish fry and goes every year (if not twice in the season), so I spontaneously decided to give it a try on Good Friday.

La Vera has been in business as a catering and event center since 1952. It can accommodate events ranging from 100-720 guests for a variety of junctions including weddings, proms, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary parties, luncheons, holiday company parties, sales rallies, seminars, auction and fund raisers. So finding parking was not a problem. They have a spacious parking lot in back.

TLDR: I was underwhelmed, but will give it another shot next year.

I rolled up on La Vera just before 6 PM. I figured it was prime fish fry attendance time and expected a line. To my surprise there was only a back up at the entrance due to someone with a walker and a couple other people chit-chatting and blocking the hallway. I followed the guy in front of me to the dining area. The reservations and credit card customers have their own dining room, because he and his wife were sent on their way to the other room. I paid my $11 to the cashier and was shown to a table. I was surprised, because it had been advertised as $12 per person.

The venue itself was very pretty. Ornate statues, mirrors and chandeliers. My mother’s godmother would have felt right at home. And they had a coat room, which was a nice touch.

After sitting for a second I asked the folks at my table what to do. They directed me to the line where they were dishing out two kinds of fish and sides like macaroni and cheese, whipped potatoes, penne in marinara sauce, and cabbage and noodles. I decided to skip the whipped potatoes and got small portions of everything else. My plate was still full. I grabbed a roll, butter, tartar sauce, a plastic container of cole slaw and napkins and silverware. A woman was ladling out soup at the end of the table, but I could not carry it all. I put my plate down at my table and headed back to get salad and a bowl of soup. I also grabbed some non-alcoholic beverages that were lined up on the bar.

Everything was okay. My favorite thing that night was the cole slaw. I don’t know if the regulars were all at Good Friday services, but everything just tasted bland to me. Both the fried beer battered pollock and baked cod were also kind of dry and nothing to get excited about. I ate the pollock and left some cod on the plate. The cabbage and noodles were full of big pieces of cabbage. I almost salted everything up, but resisted. That soup that everyone raves about? The pasta fagioli? I just thought it was meh. Like watered down tomato soup. To be fair, I’m really not a huge fan of tomato soup. The salad was good, with a nice Italian dressing.

On the plus side, I really enjoyed chatting with my table full of strangers. We recommended various fish fries to one another and talked about the crime of big business stealing pensions from hard-working employees. One big plus was that the dessert table was still plentifully stocked when I went to grab some dessert (even though I was full and left a lot on my plate). There were trays of cookies, some jello and slices of cake. I grabbed a small piece of cake, which I found cloyingly sweet, but it grew on me and I enjoyed it. It was nice and moist.

And you can’t beat the price – $11/12 for all-you-can-eat. Unfortunately I can never eat more than one plate at AYCE spots. The guy next to me went back for seconds, and my friend’s friend went back for thirds the last time they were there. So if you value quantity over quality this is the place for you. Like I said, maybe I was just having an off night and am being a little harsh, because I have heard rave reviews from people whose opinions I value.

Contact info:

La Vera Party Center
32200 Chardon Road
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
(440) 943-0087

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Final Fish Fry Friday – Han Chinese Kabob and Grill

The original plan was to attend the fish fry at Benedictine High School on Friday. They serve a fried fish dinner (2 cod pieces), baked fish dinner (1 cod piece), shrimp dinner (9 pieces), or pierogi dinner (8 pierogies) for $8 per dinner ($7.50 for seniors), which includes a baked potato or french fries, coleslaw or applesauce, bread, condiments, and coffee, tea or milk. They also serve clam chowder, fried clams, grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, and onion rings. I was excited to try it, but all of my friends were less excited (or sick of fried food) and bailed. I didn’t feel like going there and facing a crowd by myself, so I reached out to a friend to meet me somewhere different.

I had fond memories of the sweet and sour fish at Han Chinese Kabob and Grill on Payne Avenue, and I have been meaning to get back there to order it again. Since I do not need to observe Lent (I just do it for the love of fried fish) I also ordered the wonton soup, which includes pork dumplings. It is enough to share, so I shared it with my friend. I also ordered some less-than-exciting steam buns on a kebab (seriously boring – do not recommend). She ordered some pot stickers and the Orange Beef Tenderloin.

There are two sweet and sour fish (whole fish) on the menu, and I could not remember which one we had ordered last time. I explained that there were ginger and aromatics and that it was a whole fish. The servers suggested I order the Sweet & Sour Crispy Fish. I was a little skeptical that it was the one I remembered – and I’m not sure if it was, but that certainly did not detract from my absolute enjoyment of the dish. First of all, it was a beautiful sight, with the tail curled up. It was lightly fried and served over a luscious ginger and garlic sweet and sour sauce. This is not the gloppy, bright orange sweet and sour sauce you find at most Chinese restaurants. It is mouthwateringly good. I had to keep removing small bones, but I think that’s because I am less adept at deboning a filet. The meat inside was moist and succulent. I ate the whole thing and had no leftovers, which is rare for me. The cheeks in particular were a treat, and my friend also enjoyed her couple of bites. I likewise enjoyed the bite of her orange beef tenderloin entree as well. I have a feeling we ordered the Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish (click to see the photo), but I will just have to order it to try it. That fish was easy to debone and just as delicious. I am just not sure if it was fried, and I seem to remember an eye – although it could have been a clove of garlic. In any event, I do not regret ordering it, because it was delicious and hit the spot perfectly. The place had a nice amount of traffic (the booths in the back appear to be very popular choices), and the servers were very friendly and accommodating.

So if you are looking for a different kind of meatless Friday, consider the fish at Han Kabob.

Contact info:

Han Chinese Kabob & Grill
3710 Payne Ave #110
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 769-8745

Fish Fry Friday #4 – Sokolowski’s University Inn

In keeping with the idea of alternating between church fish fries and restaurant fish fries, this week we went to Sokolowski’s University Inn. Sokolowski’s is an institution here in Cleveland. As their website touts, “Located in the heart of Tremont, Sokolowski’s University Inn has been serving delicious Polish and Eastern European cuisine since 1923. Overlooking the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland skyline, this James Beard Foundation “American Classics” Award-winning restaurant is a must-visit for locals and visitors alike. As Cleveland’s oldest owned and family operated restaurant, loyal customers line up time and time again to eat their favorite homemade dishes.”

And line up they do. We got there at 5:30 and the line extended all the way to the back of the building. Luckily I figured it would be bad and we entered using the door where the line started (the door is in the center of the above photo – it kind of looks like a chimney from here). My friend and I chatted with each other and with the folks around us. One older lady (she must have been 80 years old) was a total hoot, talking about marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and trying to convince me to give Dyngus Day a visit. Her husband, who she had been with for 60 years, is a die-hard Indians fan and was flying to Arizona the next day to watch them train.

We finally found ourselves under the Smacznego sign at 6:15. We grabbed silverware, napkins and a tray and started sliding down the line. The desserts were tempting, but I knew I wouldn’t have room. I grabbed a Sprecher’s Orange Dream soda from the bin and continued on my way to the steam trays. My friend and I decided to get a Lake Erie perch dinner and a grilled rainbow trout and were going to share them. Once we got to the steam trays and saw the gorgeous beer battered cod we quickly changed our mind. We quickly had to decide which one not to order. I ordered the cod, and when they brought out fresh fried perch the decision was made really quickly. I grabbed a dinner roll and my plate of food (beer battered cod with pierogi and corn), loaded up on butter and sour cream, and paid my bill at the cash register. We told the guy carrying our trays how many people would be in our party, and he accompanied us to a table. My friend headed to the bar for a beer, while I headed to the salad bar.

After eating at Sokolowski’s so often I know my limits. I enjoyed my dinner roll, a salad loaded with fresh vegetables, cucumber salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, and half of my meal. I packed up the other half to enjoy later. I had one piece of perch and one piece of cod. Both were moist and flaky. Absolutely fried to perfection. I can say without a doubt they were the best pieces of fish I’ve had all season. The pierogi were soft and pillowy potato goodness swimming in butter and onions. They were also the reason we were there. One of my friends had never had pierogi until Lent last year at Prosperity Social Club, and he was not that impressed with pierogi. I told him he had to try Sokolowski’s since they were probably the best in the city. He had one from his wife’s plates and enjoyed it more than the one last year. He had ordered the salmon as well as sweet potato mash, which he declared was “too sweet,” and roasted potatoes. He appeared to enjoy the salmon and roasted potatoes a lot, but left the sweet potato. His wife had the perch and pierogi. It was their first time at Sokolowski’s, and they were heading out to Pittsburgh for the weekend so they didn’t linger. Her verdict was “The pierogies were worth the trip!”

My friend who ordered the perch with me also enjoyed both the perch and cod. She loaded both up with lots of lemon juice. She peppered up the mashed potatoes and also thoroughly enjoyed the pierogi. We both knew what to expect and enjoyed our meals.

Two more of my fellow diners arrived late and were seated with us after I explained by text where we were sitting. They had never been there before either and didn’t know what to expect. They were surprised to see such a long line, but they took it in stride. In addition to giving her a few dining recommendations, one of guys in line with them recommended she get the Salisbury steak, so she did. It did look pretty amazing, and even though she had made meatloaf the day before she enjoyed it very much. She got the full-on carb experience – Salisbury steak, pierogi, cabbage and noodles and rice pudding. Right on! Apparently the rice pudding was a mix of rice and bread? Her friend ordered the lamb chops, which the food runner called “little steaks” along with the pierogi. She said they were good. We got a chuckle out of the mint jelly, which I had thought was green Jell-o. They both got boxes as well – and my one friend got a meal to go for her son – complete with a to go box for the salad bar for him (which you can see in the photo to the right).

Everyone left fat and happy, having enjoyed their meals. I don’t know if I would go for dinner again on a Friday during Lent (because they serve their fish specials every Friday throughout the year), but the line moved slow enough that there were always a few empty tables available. When we left around 7:30 the line had died down considerably (extending up the stairs but not through the dining room) and there were more available tables. They had run out of scrod by 6:30 though, so it pays to get there earlier rather than later.

Contact info:

Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-9236

Fish fry #3 – St. Dominic

When it is snowing I really have to motivate myself to venture out. I was very tempted to blow it off and stay in tonight, but I am so glad I didn’t. Several of my friends were feeling under the weather today, so instead of six we were three. The decision had been made to go to St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights. It has a good reputation, apparently being voted by Sun News readers to be “the best in the Heights and Hillcrest areas in an online poll that saw the parish receiving 44 percent of the roughly 400 ballots cast.” Unlike other fish fries, St. Dominic also accepts reservations for parties of 10 or more. They offer 36 tables as well as a private dining room for groups looking to enjoy a more intimate dining experience. That said, it was not crowded like some of the more popular fish fries I’ve been to, and we easily found seats together.

I got there tonight at 6:30. It was a whopping 15 minute drive from my home, so a little snow did not scare me off. I pulled into the parking lot, but was unable to find a spot. So I pulled out and circled back around and parked in one of the snowed-over RTA parking lots on the other side of the street. As I was walking up to the church a car slowed down next to me asking if I was walking to my car. I had to disappoint him and he probably also ended up parking on the street.

There was not much of a line to pay. I was behind two small groups. They have a table to the left for credit cards and to the right for cash payments. My meal totaled $18 – $12 for the dinner, $4 for clam chowder and $2 for 2 cans of soda. The man who waited on me was running out of ones, but I happily gave him a twenty, a five and three ones in exchange for a ten.

My friend and I waited in the lobby for our other friends (resisting the siren calls of the Girl Scout cookie table – a valiant effort if you ask me). Once our third friend arrived and the fourth texted back saying she was still waiting for her daughter, we got into what we thought was the food line. We stood for about 5 minutes chatting until someone realized we were holding dine-in receipts and directed us from the take-out line to the dine-in line. Oops. We queued for our food and grabbed a cafeteria tray in the cafeteria window decorated with fancy fish made of hearts, markers and glitter. A table was set up in front of it with dessert choices. I chose the (food service) eclairs, because I love a good cream puff with custard. The efficient person behind the window organized my food and I was on my way. She explained that the condiments and plastic ware were on the table. I set my food down and headed to the beverage table. One of my other friends grabbed some tea from the tea and coffee table (it came with the dinner). I was totally tickled when I noticed that the bread rolls were German bread rolls. I had a Vollkornbrotchen, my friend directly to my right had a round Austrian Semmel, and my third friend had a German Brotchen. I suspect Zoss the Swiss Baker had a hand in the bread offerings.

My friends and I tucked into our meals and chatted for a bit. We also enjoyed the musical stylings of a high school barbershop quartet that was entertaining the room. I had ordered the fish and shrimp combo. I very much enjoyed the shrimp. The fish had a crispy, golden-brown exterior and soft, moist interior (as you can see below). My fries were very crunchy, which is not my preference, so I ended up leaving most of them on my plate at the end of my meal. The coleslaw was definitely homemade and was nice.

My friends raved about the sweet potato. Not too many fish fries offer sweet potato. One of my friends had never been to a fish fry before because she doesn’t like fish and has a food intolerance to potatoes. The shrimp and sweet potato convinced her to join us, and I’m fairly certain she had a good time.

The thing I love about Cleveland and local fish fries is sometimes you run into people you know. Not only did I run into someone I knew from Meetup in the lobby as she and her family were leaving, but I ran into a friend from my undergraduate days at BGSU. Her best friend was my residence hall adviser and all-around cool chick. I was thrilled when she sat down at our table with her husband and mother. I hadn’t seen her since we graduated in 1992. We had a good time catching up, and I added her and her husband to my dining out group so I look forward to catching up more in the future.

All in all, this was a decent fish fry and a wonderful evening out. We closed the place down and left shortly before 8 PM. We bused our trays and headed out into the night.

The St. Dominic fish fry will continue from 5-8 p.m. through Lent.

Contact info:

St. Dominic Church
19000 Van Aken Boulevard
Shaker Heights, OH
(216) 561-4400

Fish fry #2 – Ridgewood Inn

I missed last week because I was sick, so even though it says fish fry #2 it is week 3 already – we’re already halfway finished with Lenten fish fry season.

They say old-time neighborhood holes-in-the-wall serve the best burgers and fried fish. They would be right when it comes to the Ridgewood Inn. It has a lot of old-time ambiance. Dark red walls and wood. They were screening old Charlie Chaplin movies (including The Great Dictator) on one TV while playing tunes from the 1950s over the speakers. The place exudes “dive” from the worn chairs to the paper placemats.

Located on Ridge Road just north of Snow Road, it was easy to get to from the Heights taking I-176 and I-480. Parking is easy. The lot behind the building was full, but there was a sign directing us across the street behind Barabicu Smokehouse. I entered through the front, but there is a back door from the parking lot. The staff was friendly. Our server has worked there for 17 years and it showed in her no-nonsense service. They make the food as they go and it seems as if the kitchen is small. We were not in a hurry and weren’t offended when half the table were served their food and the other had to wait for the next batch. During Lent they serve a limited menu – all seafood – from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. We went at 1 for lunch to make sure they didn’t run out of anything. It was easy to hear everyone at that time, but I’ve heard of lines for dinner during Lent. If you want cheap classic beer and drinks and want pierogi that will fill you up and then some, all for a great price then this is the place for you.

First things first, we ordered drinks, and the server brought out a plate of soft rye bread and semi-soft butter pats. I had two slices of bread slathered with butter and had to refrain from eating more. I was the only one of my group that ordered a beer, but I figured it would go nicely with the fish. I also ordered a ginger ale to make sure I didn’t drink my beer to fast.

They serve a nice selection of fish – Sauger pike, beer battered cod, yellow perch, and baked scrod. I ordered the yellow perch, which wasn’t on the printed menu but was on offer if you knew to ask for it. I got five pieces of perch, two pierogi (one sauerkraut, one potato – fried instead of boiled), and coleslaw for $16.50. A little ramekin of sour cream was 35 cents. The perch were nicely fried and were not greasy. The pierogi were deep-fried to perfection with lots of butter and caramelized onion. The sauerkraut pierogi was indicated with the little yellow sword. I think I liked it better than the potato pierogi, which is saying something. The sauerkraut was nicely caramelized and sweet, not sour. The coleslaw was a nice, creamy version that I enjoyed a lot.

I was very tempted to order the fried scallops, because you rarely see fried scallops on a menu anywhere. The choice of fried scallops, fried clam strips or fried shrimp. My friend ordered the fried scallops with two potato pierogi (boiled) for I think around $13.50. I ordered one to go for later with the boiled pierogi and enjoyed the sweet, deep-fried nuggets a lot. Some of my friends were not that impressed with the pierogi, which were rather large and a little tough. I think the deep-fried pierogi were better than the boiled. They seemed a bit more tender. All of the pierogi were obviously handmade. But if you ask me any pierogi is a good pierogi (except maybe Mrs. T’s).

They also serve half orders of their fish dinners available as well that come with half the fish (2 1/2 or so), one pierogi and coleslaw. One of my other friends ordered that because she was hard-core and meeting friends with her husband that night for another fish fry. One of my friends ordered the large cabbage and noodles ($4) to share, and it was a really nice, tender, flavorful version with well-cooked cabbage and noodles.

The server was really good and reminded me not to forget my fried scallops to go. She kept our drinks refilled and was on top of anything we needed. We were able to get an extra plastic bottle of tartar sauce for our table, and she even brought us a plate of lemons when someone asked for them.

Everyone enjoyed their fish fry lunch today and hitting some of the spots in the area like Barabicu, Rudy’s and Chuppa’s afterwards. I went home to take a nap since my power went out at midnight the night before and had just come on when I left to meet them for lunch at 12:30. My verdict: it wasn’t the best fish fry I’ve ever had, but it was a nice solid choice.

Contact info:

Ridgewood Inn
5759 Ridge Rd
Cleveland, OH 44129
(440) 884-0310

Fish Fry Friday #1 – Sts. Helen and Constantine

Hang onto your hats, kids. This one is going to be a bumpy review. I just got back from my first fish fry of the year. I decided to get take-out from Sts. Helen and Constantine, because I’ve been sick and wanted to stay close to home.

The fish fry runs every Friday during Lent from 5-8 PM. Enter the fish fry from the back door off the parking lot (the far-right door was the only one that was unlocked).

I got there right at 5 o’clock when they opened, because it is easier to find parking in the lot and the wait shouldn’t be as long. I got in line for the take-outs. As you can see, there were not that many people in front of me. I left the building 25 minutes later. The cashier was GLACIAL. There were two cashiers for the other line, which was much longer. One guy even tried to jump in line in front of me after he got his food, and I firmly informed him that we had all been waiting.

I have gone to Sts. Helen and Constantine in the past and ordered what I thought was the whitefish. Turns out it was the walleye, because once again it was so salty that it was not edible. So if you do go, order the whitefish, calamari or the fried shrimp. Also, the advertised “rice pilaf” was white rice. I ordered a side of rice pudding for $3 and an order of spanakopita for $3. The cashier charged me $23. $23 for rice pudding, 2 pieces of spanakopita, 1 piece of inedible fish, white rice and a dinner roll. I went online to look up the prices, and they range from $9 to $13.50. No way was my fish dinner $17. The money they raise from the fish fry does not go toward boosting the church’s coffers, but instead is used strictly to benefit the less fortunate, so I’m going to consider my dinner a mitzvah as I throw it out. At least the rice pudding and spanakopita are delicious.

All of these tables will be filled by 7 PM.

Contact info:

Sts. Helen and Constantine
3352 Mayfield Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-3300

Fish Fry Friday #6 – Academy Tavern

I didn’t feel like venturing too far from home tonight, so I went by myself to Academy Tavern on Larchmere Boulevard for their fish fry. Recently featured as one of the oldest bars in Cleveland, Academy Tavern has been in business since 1939 and has been doing a fish fry most of that time. It runs from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Fridays.

This place definitely has character – both in the decor and the patrons. I can picture the bar full of hard-working men drinking after work. And apparently it was spruced up recently and the menu was updated.

I didn’t feel like eating pierogi today, so I stuck with a bowl of clam chowder and the fish fry.

I went before the dinner rush, so the waitress told me to sit wherever I wanted. I chose a seat towards the back, and she came right over and took my order. She was soon back with my clam chowder.

The clam chowder was loaded with clams and obviously freshly made. It was very heavy on the dill, so if you don’t like dill be forewarned. It was very good and very filling. I definitely can recommend it.

The fish fry offers you your choice between perch or pike. Both come with fries and slaw and fetch $15. I went with the perch, although I was very tempted to order the Pineapple Pepper Trout, which is a special this month. I’m a sucker for rainbow trout. But it is Fish Fry Friday, so fried fish it is. The fish was perfectly fried as well as flaky and tender. The tartar sauce tasted homemade, and I really enjoyed it. The coleslaw was creamy and delicious, and the fries were a nice accompaniment. I ended up taking half of my dinner home (I’m sensing a pattern here…). It will be great as a sandwich tomorrow.

I’m on the fence whether I will go to a fish fry on Good Friday. To be honest, I’m kind of fished out at the moment. For many of the church fish fries this is the last day of their season. I guess I’ll just see how I feel on Good Friday, although to be honest that is actually the only day that Lutherans aren’t supposed to eat meat. If I plan to go to a fish fry maybe I’ll be sure to stick to it. Or I might just go get some sushi.

In any event, I hope you all enjoyed this little series. I know I did.

Contact info:

Academy Tavern
12800 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120